Released August 11, 2019, this Reflection is about the Tao, flow states, and the evolution of humanity. I hope that you enjoy it!
Years ago, I remember listening to podcasts about flow states, about getting into ‘the zone’ and alpha waves in the brain and a whole bunch of other stuff about this topic. The idea essentially went that there was a place to get, that it was evanescent, and you wanted to maximize your likelihood of getting into this flow state. The better you became at it, the more that you could ‘produce.’
This is not a new idea. In Eastern mysticism there is this concept of the Tao. It is like a river that runs through reality, but it cannot be totally spoken about. Ineffable, it is something that cannot be known, but the greatest ‘masters’ in life know how to tap into it. Generally, it involves surrender.
One of the more blissful realizations that I have had over these past few years is how human beings have tried over and over to explain certain ideas of spirit, coming at them from all kinds of different angles, attempting to convey something that cannot be conveyed. And yet, it would seem, for some people there is conveyance. Somehow, the unutterable is somehow uttered, it is somehow communicated.
Not to everyone, of course. And certainly not at the same time. I have reread novels and books and philosophy texts years on after the first rereading and suddenly something new dawns on me. I might have completely missed the boat the first time, or misunderstood the message, or simply did not ‘get it.’
At least, that is one way of looking at it. We have a tendency to separate out our lives, cut them into little bits and point at them in a way that removes them from previous experiences. To look at a life not as something inseparable, but as something that can be compartmentalized. That stuff about flow states comes to mind.
But the reality that I have experienced, the one in which I am living now, brooks absolutely no separation. I can no longer see any difference between my life when I am at work or at play, for example. There is no part of me that longs for anything any different than what is. And in the result, there is nothing but flow.
I sometimes feel that we are in our youth as a species. I mean, turn on the latest news broadcast for a description of how totally unwise we collectively are. For the most part, we are all tapped in. But not into the Tao or the flow. More so tapped into the ideas of pop culture, of life as a journey to get somewhere (measured in terms of material success), of humanity as a series of somewhat interconnected little islands who have nuclear families and are cut off from the rest of nature.
In my experience, tapping out of the paradigm is not about dropping out of society at large. I look at the failed hippie countercultural revolution and to me it just seems obvious. The fantasy land escape to a commune where like-minded people congregate, to treat people as ‘squares’ who ‘just don’t get it man’ seems to me to have been a complete misunderstanding of the only realistic way of moving forward. The point is not to cut out the people who still live in separation. The point seems to be to create a paradigm where everybody is included.
Coercion is a failed policy for governing ourselves. Coercion comes in a million different forms but it all comes down to forcing people to see the world the way that we do. Certainly, we need to have consequences for anti-social behaviour, like killing people or stealing. Jails or something like jails need to exist. Exile is a legitimate form of self-governance for the species when someone has seriously breached our code of ethics, and prison is simply a form of exile that works in the modern world. We are not hunter gatherers living on the plains any more. But what would work as a form of governance?
Honour. That is the root of it, as far as I can see. Honour-based systems work a charm for everything. I can’t tell you what the Tao is, but I can tell you that honour is part of it. Everyone knows what honourable behaviour means – it means that you consider others to be of equal worth to yourself. The golden rule is a description of honourable behaviour. Honour is dharmic, in the sense that ‘dharma’ refers to cosmic law. Dharma works in tandem with ‘karma,’ which basically means that your actions dictate your reality. If you do not work with dharma, if you act adharmically, then karma simply means that you will be subject to ‘adharma’. Adharma is not in keeping with the Tao. To put that simply, if you are dishonourable, what you experience will be devoid of honour. It sucks!
Again, speaking of these things cannot be done justice by language. What I just wrote is kind of true but it is not the whole story. It would not be ineffable if you could ‘eff’ it.
The Tao is a code of principled behaviour that cannot be taught but it can be described inadequately. In Buddhism, there is this idea that the words to describe Buddhism are a finger pointing at the moon. You can get tripped up if you think that the finger itself is the moon. But the moon provides all of the illumination that we need on a clear night. You can cross the country at night just by the light of a glowing moon.
Coercion is adharmic. When we try to get people to ‘be nice’ by coercion, we are doomed to fail. This is literally the reason communism failed. It is the reason that people suffer under communist regimes. People point to corruption and say that communism cannot work because of human nature, and this is true. But the reason it is true isn’t because human beings are inherently corrupt. It is because coercing people by removing their freedom of choice is adharmic. The proof of the pudding is in the tasting, as they say.
If we are ever going to survive as a species, it won’t be through adharma or coercion. It is going to be through a widespread understanding of what might be called the Tao or it might be called dharma or it might be called illumination or enlightenment. It will be through doing the shit that we all know is right but are too scared to give an actual shot.
I mean, ethical living is simple. What Jesus Christ described was dharmic behaviour: always forgive, never lie, never judge, never be violent with one another. Literally all of that is the golden rule expressed in one way or another. And other religions offer their own version of the same thing. You don’t even need to get into religion – the golden rule is pretty much universally understood to be a good idea.
Eckhart Tolle is of the opinion that enlightenment is the next stage of human evolution. I would have to agree with him. What Jesus Christ was is exactly what you are, what I am, what every single one of us is. It’s what Mohammed was, what Lao Tzu was, what Neem Karoli Baba was. But also Hitler and Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan and Charles Manson were. There is absolutely no qualitative difference in those people, but the realities they were living in were completely different.
This is one of the places where our ideas of separateness really do us a disservice. How many times have I heard people denigrate criminals as being disgusting creatures worthy of reproach? Plenty of us have reasons to hate other people. No matter who you are, if you look at the world in a certain way, you can set yourself up for hate. It is a simple thing to do, to hate. And it requires no effort.
Ethical behaviour, though, is a different story. It seems so hard to be ethical at times, if we are used to lying and cheating. It is all because of habit. Nothing more than that. We have a habit of being outside of the Tao. You can see that it’s a habit because almost everyone has been a child less than two. The wonder with which they see the world is a wonder built by a lack of habit. They do not habitually judge or withhold forgiveness because they do not have the capacity yet. They have not yet been taught that it is not only OK to judge people, but it is a good thing that they do.
This is all karma is, if you look at it with the right lens. We are all creators of our reality and karma is simply a description of the creative process. We, all of us, create a world of hatred by acting adharmically. We think that honour is a fool’s game, we think that judgment of this person or that person is OK, we think that closing ourselves off to other people is OK. But that doesn’t mean that it is the only way.
Donald Trump is such a good illustration of this that it is absolutely wild. People hate this man. Twitter is just rotten with hatred and judgment about him. People on social media slam him, slam his lies, slam his policies, talk about punching Nazis, scream hatred into the night. Because he is adharma incarnate, essentially. And people think that what this man represents will be ‘beaten’ by calling him out and judging him as subhuman or an orange monkey or pick your disparaging description. This is just a flip side of the same coin.
One of my favourite quotes from The Matrix is an exchange between Neo and Morpheus. Neo says to Morpheus, ‘when I know I’m The One, I’ll be able to dodge bullets?’ Morpheus responds with, ‘when you know you’re The One, you won’t have to.’ Enlightenment is a transcendence of the game of finger-pointing. This is exactly what is being spoken about in that story in metaphor.
The future is nothing but possibility. We might talk of biological imperatives and selfish genes and ‘just the way it is.’ But the truth is, at least insofar as I have seen it and I am experiencing it, that is not the way it is. What is possible – what is necessary for our survival – is something more. It is united and loving and dharmic and keeping with the Tao. It is mass illumination.
How we get there? I have no idea, because it is not something that can be taught except in a roundabout manner and even then it is not exactly a safe bet. Trying to force it never works. But I do have my own contribution, however slight, to it. Perhaps by keeping our feet to the fire, by continuing to talk about a better way, more of us will stumble into enlightenment. And that will mean another voice in the choir.
Proper thing, because the bandstand is burning.